Sympathy for Homophobic Parents

As I blogged yesterday (here and here), there is a current, ugly push-poll being used by anti-gay folks in Oregon to convince voters to support a ban on same-sex marriage. One of the questions the push-poll asks, as quoted in the Oregonian, is:

“In Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage is legal, they are preparing materials to teach the gay lifestyle to children, beginning in kindergarten….Does it concern you that this will happen in Oregon if same-sex marriage is legalized?”

I wrote earlier that I didn’t know exactly what Massachusetts policy the push-poll question referred to. My friend Robert Hayes suggested that they’re probably referring to this policy (thanks to Charles for the link!). Robert wrote:

[The Massachusetts Health curriculum framework says] that definitions of sexual orientation will be made in pre-K through fifth grades.

So that’s what they’re talking about in their push poll.

I’m not a Christian fundamentalist, and I’m not concerned that someone’s children might be taught tolerance. I am concerned about what values my children are taught; fortunately, I have lots of recourse in that department. There are a lot of people who don’t have my options, though, and I can understand why they would be upset.

Amp, if you had kids, and the only school you could afford to send your kids to taught values that were morally wrong to you, wouldn’t you be upset? I think that folks on all sides of the fence have to understand the special status of public schools. They’re the school of last resort for all, and the school of only resort for many. Regardless of the merits of a particular piece of social advocacy, using the schools for such advocacy is inevitably going to trample on someone.

First of all, I want to point out that Trey of Daddy, Papa and Me has responded to Robert’s comment. I agree with Trey completely – his response to Robert is better and more interesting than my own – but I can’t find a good bit to quote out of context, so please go read Trey’s post.

My response to Robert: It’s far from clear that the particular policy Robert is talking about – which says only that students be able to “Define sexual orientation using the correct terminology (such as heterosexual, and gay and lesbian)” – can be correctly described as “advocacy.” If it’s advocacy, it’s only so in the same way that teaching evolution is advocacy. And in any case, the policy predates SSM in Massachusetts by five years, so suggesting that this policy is caused by SSM (as the push-poll did) is dishonest.

However, what about schools that include a book like Heather Has Two Mommies in the curriculum? A book like that (to repeat Robert’s distinction) goes beyond teaching tolerance to advocating normalization.

Can I feel sympathy for a family that is “upset” that their child is reading Heather Has Two Mommies in public school? Well, I can certainly understand why they’re upset. But from my perspective, they’re upset for the same reason that an anti-Semitic family might be upset when public schoolchildren are taught that Jewish holidays and traditions should be accorded the same respect as Christian holidays and traditions.

I can understand that, too. On an intellectual level, if I try, I can even sympathize with the pain and distress such parents must feel. But it doesn’t mean that I’m inclined to want those folks setting policy.

(Charles also brought up an interesting question: How does Robert feel about the pro-capitalism bias of virtually all public schools in the USA, since this may distress those parents who are socialists?)

Returning to what is (for me) the central issue of my earlier post, I can understand the distress anti-gay parents feel. However, that distress doesn’t excuse using fear of the “gay lifestyle” being taught in schools to drum up support for an anti-gay measure that has nothing to do with what’s taught in schools. In fact, because I can understand that distress, I think that telling lies designed to aggravate that distress is particularly scummy.

(I’m not assuming that Robert disagrees with me on this point; he hasn’t yet commented either way).

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46 Responses to Sympathy for Homophobic Parents

  1. 1
    Robert says:

    Damn it, Amp, I have work to do. Quit posting things I want to respond to.

    I don’t want a voucher system that takes money away from the public schools, I want a voucher system that takes students away from the public schools. And then, of course, money will go away from the schools – because they have fewer students to educate.

    I would have no problem with limiting the voucher amount so that the post-administration per-capita expenditure per student in the public schools doesn’t go down. In other words, we’d tally ip the per-cap expenditure, and make the voucher amount be a bit less than that, so that the continued fixed cost of administration wouldn’t shaft the kids who were left in the public system.

    Would that be OK with you?

    Second question: what do you think about virtual schools? We have our kids in a virtual academy now. It uses the really impressively good K12 curriculum. The state pays for our curriculum and pays teachers to be available as resources; we do the dog work. Costs them less, and we’re happier; doesn’t take money away from the public schools because technically we’re still in the public schools. We just get to celebrate Christmas instead of “Winter Holiday”. ;)

  2. 2
    Ampersand says:

    I can’t imagine any reasonable biology education that doesn’t teach about evolution. You might as well say that we’re going to have a physics education that doesn’t include anything about friction.

  3. 3
    Ampersand says:

    Returning to my earlier analogy, I have nothing against people choosing to forgoe the public bus system and instead driving private cars. What I AM against is the idea that the city government should have to take my “share” of the public bus system’s funding and pay it to me to help me buy a car.

    Let’s say my “share” of the public bus system is $1152 annually. (For purposes of this example, I’m pretending the bus system doesn’t require me to buy bus passes). Let’s also say that there are only 1000 Portland commuters who would rather have a $1152 subsidy for car-buying than take the bus. That means that a system of “vouchers for cars” would take away $11,520,000 from the public bus system, meaning that everyone who is still taking the public bus is getting worse service.

    I would be willing to consider a voucher system if the voucher system didn’t involve taking money away from public schools.

  4. 4
    Robert says:

    Lukas – The state allows that because the question of human sexuality is not considered a core educational issue.

    A private school or homeschool that simply refuses to teach math would come in for sanction, depending on the state. One that declines to teach evolution or human sexuality or sports or the history of the Austrian Empire is within the bounds. These aren’t core issues.

  5. 5
    Lukas Halim says:

    Hey Amanda,

    Please don’t use the word “goddamn.”

    I’m not sure if you were responding to my post. I’ll act on the assumption that you were.

    I wasn’t asking about vouchers. Rather, I was asking, “Why the state allow parents to send their children to schools that teach that homosexuals do not exist?” I would like to know how much authority parents have in educating their children.


  6. 6
    Lukas Halim says:

    Hey Amp,
    “state” = “government” in my last post.

    Thanks for the detailed response. I basically agree with you that the government should set some reasonable minimal requirements for education, and beyond that parents should be able to decide what their children learn.

    Interesting that you’re pro-homeschooling but anti-voucher. It seems obvious that vouchers would give parents more choice over what sort of education their children would recieve. So why the opposition? It seems like by not allowing vouchers, the state essentially says, “Yes, parents _can_ choose to educate their children however they wish, but it will be much more expensive to do so then to just accept the government-mandated education.”


  7. 7
    Ampersand says:

    Amanda: Like you, I don’t favor vouchers. Portland has a public bus system; but just because I don’t want to use the public system, that doesn’t mean that the city government is obliged to buy me a car.

    However, I would point out that (speaking as a landlord of sorts myself) renters do indeed pay property tax – because if I wasn’t paying property taxes, I’d charge them somewhat less. So they just pay it indirectly rather than directly.

    Lukas, it’s a bit confusing that you use the word “state” – I’m not sure that you mean “state of the union” or “government,” in this context.

    For myself, I think that mandated minimum standards set by the state (of the union) government (i.e., all schools must teach math, writing, literature, etc), but letting local school systems set the details through a system of elected representatives, seems like a system that works.

    I don’t think there’s an either-or question to “who has the authority – parents or the state?” I do think parents should be free to home school, for example (I’m a big fan of home schooling). But I also think that even home schools should be required to meet reasonable minimal standards of education (e.g., I don’t think it should be legal for home-schooled children to not learn how to read or do long division). And even for parents who use the public schools, they should be free to pull their child out of particular classes they disapprove of, so long as the child’s education is still meeting those reasonable minimum standards.

    (I.e., if a parent has an objection to Health class, I don’t see any problem with that parent pulling their child(ren) out of Health class.)

    Similarly, athough I favor local town or city governments having a lot of power to set curriculums, I think this should happen through elected representatives (that is, a school board) – and the school board is likely to be composed mostly of parents, and the people who care enough to vote and be active in school board elections will be mostly parents. So the state has the power, in my system, but at the same time parents are not powerless.

  8. 8
    Robert says:

    Amanda, renters pay property taxes too. They just don’t get a bill for it; it’s simply folded into their rent.

    You seem to be very angry at the thought that someone who believes differently from you might be allowed to pass on their beliefs to their children at your expense. How is your attitude different from that of the fundamentalists who are outraged that some children are learning things THEY find objectionable?

    Perhaps I give myself too much credit, but I would like to think that even if my values were 100% enforced in the public system, people who dissent would not be prevented or penalized for doing so. That’s the main reason I like a voucher-type plan; people get to make their own decisions.

  9. 9
    Amanda says:

    There’s only a small minority of people who want to yank their kids out of school because those kids are learning facts–the rest of us should not pay them money to pass ignorance onto their kids. I have zero pity for the vouchers crowd. Too bad they don’t think it’s fair that they have to pay and someone else doesn’t for education. I have to pay $3,000 a goddamn year for the schools and I have no children. Someone who rents and has children? Pays nothing. The system is wildly unfair, so I have no pity on people who want to take more of MY money to teach their kids that people walked with dinosaurs and there’s no such thing as homosexuals.

  10. 10
    Andrew says:

    Just a point of clarification: I agree with pretty much the rest of what you said, Nomen, apart from the statement that God definitely doesn’t exist. (And for the record, I’m not saying God definitely does exist either). I think Amanda has the closest analogy, and also think that children should be taught of the existence of religions (And homosexuality too, though not necessarily at kindergarten age, since I don’t think kindergarten-age children should be taught much about sexuality at all).

  11. 11
    Lukas Halim says:

    So who has authority over the education of children? Parents, or the state? For those of you who say that the state has the authority, does this mean that parents should not be allowed to homeschool or send their children to religious schools?

    Or, would you rather say that whichever party is more enlightened has the authority? Or do parents have some authority to over their children’s education, but the state also has some? (for example, the state should teach children to be tolerant and generous, but parents have authority in other areas – like imparting cultural values and what-not)

  12. 12
    Robert says:


    The problem/opportunity of large numbers of incompatible viewpoints is often offered as a justification for privatizing schools, and using state money to fund students at the same level the schools get now. (Vouchers, in other words.) You want your kids to learn all about same-sex relationships, you send them to that school; you want the issue left out of the curriculum, you send them there instead.

    It solves this problem very neatly. It does impose other kinds of costs, though.

  13. 13
    Amanda says:

    Actually, V, the closest analogy would be it’s like telling kids that there are a number of religions in the world that believe in god. That’s a fact and you’re not pushing anything on the kids.

    Nor is telling someone that there are homosexuals going to make them be one. There are those who think this, but they are the ones who seem to think homosexuality is so deliciously inviting how could anyone resist? And their motives, therefore, might be questionable.

  14. 14
    jp says:

    This is an interesting discussion, thanks to everybody who has brought it up.

    Seems that public schools’ curriculum have to be built on ‘community standards’ in some way, right? We can’t teach every religion, or (probably) even every sexual orientation–there simply isn’t enough time. So, some values are chosen over other values.

    I think that the view given by Trey makes perfect sense, and Trey is notably ok with dealing with a community standard, i.e. there are all sorts of values (shame, for one) that will be taught to his daughter that he doesn’t approve of. Also notably, the ‘other side’ isn’t as accomodating.

    But who sets the community standard? This is the question that I think the open-minded people are asking. Does majority rule? (I don’t see a good way around that it ought to.) What about ‘minority rights’? Now, I admit that the ‘other side’ doesn’t seem to care at all about this particular minority’s right to educate their children according to their values, but let’s pretend for a moment that each side did care, that each side wanted fairness in this issue. We’d still have a problem, because there may be too many positions to be discussed. And then we are back at square one.

  15. 15
    Robert says:

    This will teach me to make offhand comments on contentious subjects. ;)

    Let’s get the amendment 36 issue off the table; I agree with Barry, it’s a scummy tactic to scare people into thinking the Gay Agenda is going to march in and take away their precious babies if they don’t stop gay marriage in Oregon.

    Regarding Charles’ point about socialism and capitalism: Through a long process of civil debate, discourse, individual discussion, Constitutional law, court rulings, etc. we have decided together that certain questions are entirely under the control of the political process. For example, will we organize our economy along capitalist or socialist lines? The institutions of culture will be expected to more or less go along with those judgments, within very broad bounds. So it is basically too bad for little pink babies; if their parents organize and convince and change the system, it’ll be too bad for little Adam Smith babies.

    I recognize that this societal decision/quasi-consensus does impose very real costs on people like Charles. Accordingly. I think that the schools should be cool about it. We don’t have Marx-Was-A-Moron Day, when all the fourth-graders bring eggs to throw at an effigy, which we then soggily burn.

    There are other questions that we have decided are Out Of Bounds for public civic institutions. Religion, for one; the schools are supposed to be neutral territory. Wear your cross if you want, say your prayer if you want, but no position is supposed to be privileged. The contention and arguing that surrounds even the perception of minor infringements one way or the other (“you taught them about Mohammad!”, “you wouldn’t let our Cindy organize a Bible study!”, etc.) show the wisdom of this policy.

    Then there’s a big middle grey area of things that are not well-mediated by the political process, or considered out of bounds. Sexuality, to my mind, falls in this zone. These questions have tended to be culturally and socially mediated; fifty years ago there was social silence on questions of homosexuality, and so there was silence in the school as well.

    Now questions of sexuality have become very public and very much part of the open debate. So how to handle them in the schools?

    I don’t pretend to have the answer to that question.

    However, I do have a practical observation to make, which I was trying (badly) to get at in my original offhand comment. That observation is this:

    The public schools are a lever of limited strength. We may decide with all righteousness on our side to have the schools teach something, or do something, or change in some way that comports with our social values. However, if those changes are beyond the strength of the school, it is the schools that will break, not the rock of public belief they are trying to shift.

    I am from the deep south. Go to Mississippi, and you will not find strong, integrated public schools. The reason is that with every good intention in the world, an attempt was made to force white people to racially integrate at school. The result was a terrible catastrophe that doomed at least two generations of black children to academic failure, and an entire region’s social fabric to acrimony and bitterness. If people are required to do things in their schools that they profoundly disapprove of – however wrong they are to disapprove – then they will pull their kids out of those schools and create alternatives, the same as the white folks did in Mississippi 40 years ago.

    I suggest that it is important to reflect on the strength of feeling that people have, and the number of people who have it, when considering what change is to be implemented. If there were 50 million socialists and they all burned with an intense inner fire, we would have to be a lot more careful with our school systems’ approach to economic questions.

  16. 16
    Nomen Nescio says:

    i’ve never been able to figure out the “being gay is a choice” argument. i mean, i remember at least most of my adolescence (not that most of it’s really worth remembering…) and i can’t recall any point in it where i had the opportunity to choose my sexuality. i just plain turned out straight, whether i liked that or not; i was never given the option to choose anything different. so why should i believe homosexuals had it any other way?

    or maybe the old “homophobia as repressed gay urges” argument is wrong, and homophobia’s actually repressed bisexuality? or do i just not know enough about bisexuals to see some obvious flaw in that assumption?

  17. 17
    tikae says:

    Somehow, I can’t gather any more sympathy for them than I can for parents who insist that Creationism should be taught in schools instead of evolution.

  18. 18
    Kevin Moore says:

    The point about removing the “under God” clause from the Pledge is that the State cannot and should not be in a position where it imposes religion upon the people. We separate Church and State to prevent them from muddying each other up, to allow the individual conscience the right to make up its own mind.

    Teaching children that gay couples have relationships as loving and as strong as straight couples is simply teaching the truth. It imposes no agenda anymore than teaching algebra, physics or biology. (That goes for evolution, too, despite what some folks in Kansas might argue.)

  19. 20
    zuzu says:

    Amp: We know for a fact that homosexuality exists. We do not know, objectively, if God exists or not. Teaching that homosexuality exists is therefore accurate, while teaching that God exists mignt not be.

    Yabbut, here we get back to the whole choice/nature thing. *We* can accept that homosexuality is a trait like blue eyes, or handedness. It, like Pooh, just is. Other people see it as a choice, and view the public schools’ implicit validation of that choice — even in the form of value-neutral, non-judgmental, not-a-big deal acceptance of the existence of homosexuals — as anathema.

    In other words, where we see the schools simply recognizing reality, others may see the schools as putting the official state stamp of approval on deviant behavior and sin deliberately chosen against the will of God.

    Besides, God is dead.

  20. 21
    Nomen Nescio says:

    Andrew, i’d rather not turn Amp’s blog into another round of a debate older than the entire lot of us put together. however, i can’t help but notice there are a lot of things we don’t know for certain, and a lot we never will. the mere fact that we can’t disprove some hypothetical can’t be reason enough to teach about it in schools; i can dream up undisproven and/or undisprovable hypotheticals at the rate of several per minute, all day long.

    meanwhile, proving the existence and humanity of homosexuals is trivial. so, Vardibidian’s analogy just doesn’t hold up, no matter what we think about deities.

  21. 22
    Andrew says:

    teaching fantasies at best — delusions at worst

    At best, it’s teaching the truth. You don’t know for certain that it’s not, you just believe atheism is a more rational explanation.

  22. 23
    Ampersand says:

    Even accepting your correction, Andrew, that still means there’s an important distinction between God and homosexuality. We know for a fact that homosexuality exists. We do not know, objectively, if God exists or not.

    Teaching that homosexuality exists is therefore accurate, while teaching that God exists mignt not be.

    I certainly think that children should be taught about God and the major religions – but from a standpoint of history, literature and social studies, not from a standpoint of “God definitely exists.”

  23. 24
    Nomen Nescio says:

    not quite, Vardibidian. homosexuals exist; god does not. hence, teaching about the existence of homosexuals is teaching about the real world, however much some people might dislike it; teaching about [Gg]od{dess}(s,es) in any way that would imply endorsement of them, or would take for granted that they exist, is teaching fantasies at best — delusions at worst.

    (N.N., donning the old asbestos underoos, as us atheists are so often wont to do…)

  24. 25
    Vardibidian says:

    But … but … that would be like making an atheist’s daughter listen to the teacher lead the class in a Pledge of Allegiance that claimed the nation is “under God”!


  25. 26
    Nomen Nescio says:

    you can teach orbital mechanics without mentioning friction, too, but that doesn’t make friction irrelevant to physics.

    Theodosius Dobzhansky is frequently quoted as stating, “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”. teaching biologists seem to agree. in all, not mentioning evo would leave your biology course lacking an important part of the “big picture”; evo provides a cohesive overview as to how all these systems and functions came to be the way they are, and how they might be expected to change over time if left to themselves. surely that matters?

  26. 27
    Ampersand says:

    In other words, we’d tally ip the per-cap expenditure, and make the voucher amount be a bit less than that, so that the continued fixed cost of administration wouldn’t shaft the kids who were left in the public system.

    It shouldn’t be just the continued fixed costs of administration – it should be all continued fixed costs, period. Including teacher salaries. Of course, if enough students leave the public schools, teachers can be let go – but public schools should be able to retain enough teachers to have relatively low teacher/student ratios, just like the private school I attended in 10th grade did.

    In addition, the cost of special education for special needs students would need to be included as an ongoing fixed expense. Those are the students who it costs the most to educate – by a long shot. Vouchers don’t even come CLOSE to what it would cost to educate special needs students in private schools, even in the unlikely case that there’s a private school in town which is willing and able to educate special needs students.

    Otherwise, all you’re doing is selectively removing the least expensive to educate kids from the public schools, leaving behind the most expensive “clients.” After which, of course, Republicans will blame the public schools for costing more to educate per student. It’s just another covert way of defunding public schools.

    Of course, once the special ed and all fixed costs are taken away from the vouchers, then we’re talking about taking more than “a bit” from the vouchers. But there’s no other way to do this without screwing the public schools – apart from raising taxes, that is, which I assume you’d oppose.

    Aside from special need students (who need special resources private schools generally lack), I don’t think private schools that accept vouchers should have the right to refuse to accept students. Public schools don’t get to say “this student looks too difficult and expensive to educate, so we’re turning him down” – so I don’t see why publicly-funded private schools should have that right, either.

    Plus, if private schools are allowed to turn down students, too many will use that as an excuse to create white-only schools. Of course, I realize that some degree of private school segregation will happen anyway – few Jewish parents will choose to send their kids to a private Catholic school – but what segregation occurs should be driven by parental choice, not by the school administrations’ picking and choosing students.

    I guess if all that was accounted for, I’d be willing to support a voucher program. Although I’d want to think about it some more before I make that a firm conviction.

  27. 28
    Robert says:

    Biology and evolution are not the same thing. You can teach health, and anatomy, and cell metabolism, and sexuality for that matter, without evolution entering the picture, and lose little or nothing.

    I remember from my public school days that the state of science was pretty uncertain when it came to the cosmology of the solar system; where’d these planets come from, anyhow? They managed to say “here’s how science works” and present the current theories without stepping on any toes. You can do the same thing for biology; in fact, if you don’t, you’re being dishonest. Evolution is not a proven fact, it’s still theoretical and large parts of it are still controversial.

    (For example, I don’t buy Darwinian microevolution as a mechanism for speciation. It just doesn’t work; something else has to be going on. That doesn’t mean The Hand Of God necessarily, or even the hand of somebody; it does mean that the current state of knowledge doesn’t permit us to honestly state “this is how and where and why”.)

    K-12 kiddies don’t need to be dragged into that and inculcated with one particular worldview that may be overturned tomorrow. They should be given the fundamentals of science and taught to tolerate ambiguity.

  28. 29
    Amanda says:

    True, but my point still stands that the schools are paid for by all whether they have children or not. Therefore they are not there to indocrinate children into religious beliefs, regardless of what the parents think. They are not the only people that have a stake in this.

    Robert, evolutionary theory is not a religious belief. Nor is the existence of homosexuality. I am an atheist and would think it wrong to teach atheism to children. I do not think it wrong to teach children that the Bible exists and the Koran and what’s in them and their place in history. If one’s religious beliefs are so strict that one’s children cannot be exposed to factual information, then you need to take your kids out of school. But the vast majority of children can be educated without offending their parents and should not be punished for the few.

  29. 30
    Nomen Nescio says:

    oh, and a detail i missed — you might not be able to see how cumulative microevolution can create new species, Robert, but others have observed it in real life. besides which, it’s far and away the best way i know of for explaining ring species (see response’s point #3 in the linked page; see also response point #4 in this link). if you know of any other theory that better accounts for those, i’d like to hear it.

    moreover, when you claim that evolution is not a “fact”, or that it’s “just a theory”, you’re simply wrong; it’s both.

    …okay, i’ll shut up now. you just happened to tread on some of my hot buttons, is all. my apologies to Amp for once again going off on a tangent irrelevant to the whole purpose of this place of his. :-(

  30. 31
    zuzu says:

    Uh, the second paragraph of the above comment should be italicized. Odd coding here.

  31. 32
    Jake Squid says:

    The problem w/ “injecting market mechanisms” into public education is the same problem w/ doing that to say, public safety. I don’t want the police or fire departments open to the private market, do you? It’s more cost effective & guarantees access for all to keep it in the public sector.

    I don’t think you could offer most private schools enough money to accept special needs students. Most private schools simply aren’t equipped for it & the costs to start are prohibitive.

    And I’m so sick of the refrain “failing schools.” Public schools are pretty much in the same shape that they have been for 50 years (schools in wealthy areas are good, schools in poor areas are atrocious). “Failing schools” are the same crap as “big government”. It’s all just a coded tagline for eliminating social services.

  32. 33
    Charles says:


    Agreed on what “Heather” teaches, but “Heather” isn’t mandated by Massachusetts policy, only the definitions are mandated. Whether or not “Heather” is available is a matter for local community standards, even in Massachusetts. Oregon, on the other hand, takes a more libertarian/decentralized approach, and mandates nothing relating to sexual orientation in phys/health/sex ed. The entirety is up to community preference.

  33. 34
    Amanda says:

    Yo, they also teach that fundamentalist Christians are people who can be happy, and I disagree with that. Ergo, they need to teach that religion is hurtful on my say-so.

  34. 35
    zuzu says:

    Lukas: Regarding the additional cost of educating the disabled: I hadn’t thought about that, and I can see why it would be a concern. As a possible solution, how about offering disabled children more money for vouchers? If the private schools recieve more money for accepting disabled students, they will be more likely to accept them.

    I’m opposed to the idea of forcing private schools to accept students. But it seems like offering larger vouchers to special needs students (students who are disabled, or who do not speak English, or whatever other categories require additional funds to education) will create an incentive for accepting such students. I would rather do that then mandate that certain schools must accept students.

    My sister’s just finished going through a whole lot of crap right now with her autistic son, trying to get him a decent education (she had to deal with a gym-teacher principal at a Department of Defense school who didn’t think autism existed). So I’ve learned a lot about special education funding and mechanics from her.

    Here’s the thing. Federal law requires that disabled and special-needs students (which, AFAIK, does not include non-English-speaking students) have equal access to education. The way that shakes out in practice is that a special-needs student is supposed to be evaluated and an Individual Education Plan is drawn up. That child’s local public school system is supposed to provide education in accordance with that plan. If they can’t do it, they will often send the child to another school district that can handle the child’s needs, and pay for it. In some cases, parents have placed their children in private schools because no local school is sufficient and successfully sued the school district for the private school’s fees.

    So, special-needs students will be covered with or without vouchers. It’s the children whose parents can’t afford to make up the difference in tuition or who can’t get it together to be involved in their kids’ education who are going to suffer if they have to stay in schools that aren’t serving them well.

  35. 36
    Lukas Halim says:

    Hey Amp,

    Regarding the additional cost of educating the disabled: I hadn’t thought about that, and I can see why it would be a concern. As a possible solution, how about offering disabled children more money for vouchers? If the private schools recieve more money for accepting disabled students, they will be more likely to accept them.

    I’m opposed to the idea of forcing private schools to accept students. But it seems like offering larger vouchers to special needs students (students who are disabled, or who do not speak English, or whatever other categories require additional funds to education) will create an incentive for accepting such students. I would rather do that then mandate that certain schools must accept students.

    In general, I think it’s odd that you seem so wary of injecting market mechanisms into the education system.

    You seem very concerned that public schools might be hurt financially by vouchers. I can see your point about “shafting kids who stay in public schools.” On the other hand, we are certainly shafting plenty of children right now by forcing them to stay in failing schools. Vouchers would allow at least some students to escape, and it would create an incentive for the public schools to improve the quality of education (in order to avoid losing students and funding).


  36. 37
    Vardibidian says:

    Well, that’ll larn me to hit send on those one-line jokes, won’t it? The point of the joke (and there was one, actually) was that many of the same people who are horrified by the idea of brainwashing children with the idea that not all happy families are alike are also horrified by the idea of not brainwashing children with the idea that the nation is “under God”. It’s not plausible that they are generally worried about the distressing effects of teaching children things that their parents disagree with. It was never meant to hold up to scrutiny.
    I do also, in reference to the above, want to point out that the Pledge says a lot more than that God exists. From the post within the post: “Amp, if you had kids, and the only school you could afford to send your kids to taught values that were morally wrong to you, wouldn’t you be upset?” I’m a believer, and I don’t think the nation is in any significant and non-redundant sense “under God”; I think it is, yes, morally wrong to teach that.
    By the way, “Heather” and such similarly do more than teach that people sometimes have sex with people of the same sex; they teach that it is possible to be happy in a romantic same-sex relationship and to raise happy healthy children in such a relationship. Which is true by my perception, but I’ve often spoken with people who think that it isn’t. Happiness is subjective, as it happens, and people do often say they are happy whilst self-destructing; the fact that the odd opium addict says he is happy doesn’t mean (a) he actually is, or (2) his short-term happiness is indicative of long-term hedon surplus. Thus, and I’m sure y’all have noticed this, pointing at examples of people who have been in (by all evidence) happy, secure, same-sex marriages for decades is not going to persuade anybody who thinks such things are impossible. No more than pointing at a tree is going to persuade an athiest of a Creator.
    Just my thoughts. Sorry they’re so rambling; if I had more time, the comment would be shorter.


  37. 38
    Charles says:


    What aspects of proto-simian to ape are more extreme than scale to feather? Isn’t this merely a matter of evolution acting on multiple features simultaneously? Also, your description of punctuated equilibrium sounds like the older saltation model than the PE model developed by SJ Gould et al. As I understand it, Gouldian PE suggests that there are periods during which micro-evolutionary events occur in a rapid cascade, as opposed to the main period when micro-evolutionary events act infrequently and in contradictory directions. Gouldian PE explicitly rejects the concept of saltation (periods when some unknown evolutionary process causes rapid change).

    The PE model of founder-flush (in which a population expands rapidly from a very small initial population, and then crashes into sub-popultions, which then undergo rapid expansion) does respond in part to your objection that rapid change involves virtual disintegration of the organism. During periods of rapid population expansion (particularly in an environment with a multitude of unfilled ecological niches), major mutations are less likely to result in death. Instead, freakish mutants may be able to survive and reproduce.

    Also, saying that biology makes sense from an evolutionary perspective is not the same as saying that phlogiston chemistry makes sense from the perspective of phlogiston chemistry. Biology is an extremely multifasceted field, large parts of which have developed only roughly within an evolutionary context. That evolutionary theory turns out to be integral to many sub-fields is exactly the sort of external test that PC failed.

    It is doubtless the case that various components of evolutionary theory will be found to be inadequate, and in need either of correction or further elaboration (for instance, I recently read a fascinating article in the journal Science discussing the need to pay more attention to cultural effects in animal evolutionary studies (animal culture, not our culture)), but that is really not on the same scale of over-turning as the end of PC. That evolutionary theory will turn out to simply be wrong seems more unlikely.

    Your description of the collapse of MS school systems following integration efforts seems reasonable. However, are post-integration public schools actually worse than pre-integration black schools? I have definitely heard that argued, but I don’t know whether it is actually the case.

  38. 39
    zuzu says:

    Robert: They also wrecked the school system and condemned a million black kids to lifelong poverty.

    Robert, please elaborate how white parents taking their kids out of public schools and putting them into private schools wrecked the public schools. One would think that with fewer kids to educate, the schools would actually fare better.

    Or was the problem that the people who controlled the state, the white people, decided to starve the public schools once they became black schools? That maybe it was the local governments, along with the parents, who decided that they didn’t want to go along with the greater public good?

  39. 40
    Robert says:


    Two major forces operated, that I know of.

    The greatest short term effect came from teachers. Teachers who were willing to teach in a segregated system (whether they were teaching whites or blacks) were less willing to work for an all-black system. I don’t know whether this was because the system suffered a loss of prestige, or if it was racism on the part of the teachers, or what. Regardless, it became very difficult for the MS public schools to hire anyone decent, a difficulty that persists to this day.

    The longer-term effect came in property taxes. When the schools were separate, white property owners were willing to pay (and vote for) property tax levies for the schools. The white schools got the lion’s share of this money. It cannot be emphasized enough that the black side of the system was in pretty poor shape and was not a priority in terms of funding.

    However, once the schools were integrated, white parents who were now paying private school tuition were completely unwilling to vote for any school levies. The public system was absolutely starved of funding, and a mediocre-to-poor system became the worst in the nation.

    The actions of the white folks in Mississippi at the time were reprehensible. They were also completely predictable. People usually respond to incentives and disincentives a lot more than they do to “the public good” – particularly when the bulk of the group would define their selfish actions as being the ones that were in the public interest.

  40. 41
    Robert says:

    Charles, from what I understand, the problem with speciation is that there is insufficient time for the necessary mutations to accumulate. There’s more than enough time for something to happen like a scaly skin structure turning into a feather; there isn’t enough time for a proto-simian to turn into a full-fledged ape. Basically the only way to get from A to Z is to have thousands of times more time to work with (trillions of years instead of billions), or to have a mutation rate that is so high that organisms as we understand them today would not be able to continue functioning from generation to generation. Biologists in the punctuated-equilibrium camp acknowledge this, and believe that some accelerated mechanism occurs periodically, so that we have long periods of gradual change followed by enormous bursts of change, possibly/probably precipitated by some ecological catastrophe.

    I’ve seen a number of hypotheses advanced to explain the mechanism of the rapid period of change. Possibly there’s some kind of viral phenomenon which we don’t ordinarily see (and thus, we don’t see today). Possibly the portion of DNA that we think of as “junk” actually has some very important role in ultra-high stress times. But it’s all guesswork – there’s nothing in the fossil record to help us out much, and we’re still in the Og-wonder-why-sky-god-is-so-hot phase. Maybe it’s aliens. Nobody knows.

    It may well be the case that there is some unknown mechanism that is nonetheless compatible with Darwinian processes that explains this. And in that case, evolution-> speciation becomes true. But it seems at least as likely that there is some entirely non-Darwinian process at work.

    It is true that biology makes a great deal of sense, seen from an evolutionary perspective. Any field of study makes a great deal of sense, seen through the sheaf of assumptions and principles that make up the field. Phlogiston chemistry made a hell of a lot of sense, to phlogiston chemists. Greater factual knowledge acquired outside the field of PC made it clear that PC didn’t hold together when tested against the outside world.

    Evolution can’t be tested very well against the outside world, at least big chunks of it can’t. This makes it a perilous thing to call “fact”, and leads me, at least, to a certain humility about what we know vs. what we suspect strongly to be the case.

  41. 42
    Charles says:

    Given the ways (already described by others) that vouchers and charter schools are used to undermine public schools, I am hesitant to support them. However, if it were recognized that both Charter and Private schools are more expensive than Public Schools, and if sufficient additional funds were allocated for these purposes, then I would tend to support them. As it stands, I tend to support the charter school program in Portland.

    I spent 1st through 3rd grade in a hippy free-school. I feel I benefited from it greatly, and I think the school would have had a better chance of survival if it had not been dependant on the incomes of poor hippies. In general, I think that small schools focused on the particular stylistic preferences of parents and students are a good thing, and I think that the more such schools can be supported via the public school system, the better. However, I don’t think that doing this should undercut the public school system as a whole.

    Robert, on evolution, what about micro-evolution do you feel makes it incapable of macro-evolution/speciation?

    I should think that macro-evolution would be the harder thing for micro-evolution to explain than speciation (although I don’t have any difficulty with it myself).

  42. 43
    mythago says:

    They also wrecked the school system and condemned a million black kids to lifelong poverty.

    Right, because the segregated school system had such fantastic schools for black kids, and did such an amazing job of keeping them out of poverty, WITHOUT integration.

    Lukas, vouchers are a private-school tuition discount for people who don’t need it.

  43. 44
    trey says:

    I’m going to have to agree with Nomen here:

    “Theodosius Dobzhansky is frequently quoted as stating, “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”.”

    As a biologist (first in molecular evolution and now in genomics), that statement is so very true in both my research and the framing of questions. _Especially_ in today’s biology (genomics)… but not to get into an evolution…creationism or whatever debate..

    I have to agree with Amp, i am very wary of vouchers and i like his analogy of public bus system. We have a public school system (and a public bus system) for a common purpose. Most voucher schemes i’ve seem weaken that purpose. I wouldn’t vote against one if it didn’t do so (but haven’t seen one yet that doesn’t), and I’m all for homeschooling (had considered it myself) and private schools (if necessary), but I think our system should be fixed (better funding, better structure and organization, more equitable distribution) than done away with. I think it does a valuable job in our society.

    As to ‘who decides’.. well… i guess we are doing that now.. a long and messy process. I think it can be done if we all agreed to a basic understanding that teaching existance and tolerance isn’t ‘acceptance and approval’.

  44. 45
    zuzu says:

    For example, I don’t buy Darwinian microevolution as a mechanism for speciation. It just doesn’t work; something else has to be going on.

    It’s been quite a while since high school biology, but I remember being taught that this was a theory, one of several and subject to change in light of new data. Much like a lot of science.

    Amanda makes a good point about the public funding of schools. Schools are publicly funded because having an educated populace is seen as a public good. This goal is somewhat at odds with what individual parents want for their children. I don’t see that the parents of an individual child or even a group of parents should be able to prevent the school from presenting legitimate material because it conflicts with their values. I think a lot of people lose sight of the public, societal purpose for education and see it as a service for parents of children.

    Sometimes, decisions for the public good are unpopular but necessary to advance a core goal of the Constitution — look at school desegregation. There will always be resistance to change, but those who resist unreasonably shouldn’t be the ones driving the bus. In most cases, controversial educational policies inspire less controversy as time goes on. But in the contest between a public value and a private value, the private value should be given a hearing, but should yield if it can’t be accommodated.

  45. 46
    Robert says:

    Zuzu, people thinking and speaking very much in the way you are thinking and speaking forced through integration in Mississippi. Those people were indisputably morally right. They also wrecked the school system and condemned a million black kids to lifelong poverty.

    It is very well to say that private values should yield to public ones, but it doesn’t work that way. Insisting that it does causes only destruction.